Poor Education Leads to Poor Lawyers

Appeared in Korea Times on May 3, 2007
Lex Pro Bono by Sean Hayes

Dear Prof. Hayes: My company and I have run into a few legal difficulties when doing business and residing in Korea. I found that the legal fees are very high and the legal representation was poor. I question the education of many Korean lawyers. How are they educated and what do you need to do to become a lawyer?
Foreign Resident of Seoul.

Dear Foreign Resident: To become an attorney in Korea you need to pass the judicial exam and then attend the Judicial Research and Training Institute (JRTI). At present the system allows only 1,000 students to pass the judicial examination. Facially the cap is to prevent those not qualified from becoming attorneys.

After passing the judicial exam all test passers must attend the JRTI. The institute is a two-year study program run by the Supreme Court. Mainly judges teach classes and the program consists of class work and also hands on training.

Therefore, to become an attorney you need not attend universities. However, most students attend universities and most students study law. But it is considered by many students that the study of law at the university level is not as helpful as studying at a judicial exam test preparation school. Hence, many students don’t study as hard in university as they do for the judicial examination. Some students even choose to forego their study at university, for a number of years, in order to pass the judicial exam.

The system needs revising. The test relies too heavily on test taking skills that have little relationship to legal skills, the universities play little to no role in training students how to become lawyers (problem solvers/critical thinkers), the JRTI puts too much emphasis on teaching the skills to become a judge, while putting little emphasis on general legal skills, and overwhelming professors at universities never practiced law and professor-judges at the JRTI never taught law.

These problems supposedly will be solved by the introduction of the American-style law school system, but we must remember that the value of the American legal education system is in the fact that attorneys graduate with legal skills. The legal skills are developed because of the Socratic Method. Korean professors have no intention to teach in the Socratic Method, therefore, the value of the American system will undoubtedly be lost if a major teaching method change is not first developed.